At twenty-six, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s rapid death from cancer, her family disbanded and her marriage crumbled. With nothing to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to walk eleven-hundred miles of the west coast of America – from the Mojave Desert, through California and Oregon, and into Washington state – and to do it alone. She had no experience of long-distance hiking and the journey was nothing more than a line on a map. But it held a promise – a promise of piecing together a life that lay in ruins at her feet.
“Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill. At first they thought it was flu, then pneumonia, then complete sceptic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later – the night before New Year’s Eve –the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of 40 years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LA airport, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Centre to relieve a massive hematoma.
This powerful book is Didion’s ‘attempt to make sense of the weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness … about marriage and children and memory … about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself’. The result is an exploration of an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage, and a life, in good times and bad.”
“Deric Longden’s mum was a wonderfully endearing, eccentric lady whose passions ranged from pot plants and her beloved pussycats to Buttercup Syrup which she consumed in vast quantities. She also provided comfort, advice and her own particular brand of wisdom in the years when Deric was struggling after the death of his first wife, Diana. Deric’s many happy memories include the vision of his mother’s unmistakeable backside as she charged through Marks & Spencers; the way in which she charmed everyone she met, including the surliest of youths, and her unusual technique of selling a house which involved plying potential buyers with iced buns whilst pointing out the damp patches and dodgy electrics. Strangely, it worked. Lost For Words is a funny, poignant and ultimately heartwarming book that may well make you cry, but will certainly make you laugh.”
Aurora and Emma are mother and daughter who march to different drummers. Beginning with Emma’s marriage, Aurora shows how difficult and loving she can be. The movie covers several years of their lives as each finds different reasons to go on living and find joy. Aurora’s interludes with Garrett Breedlove, retired astronaut and next door neighbor are quite striking. In the end, different people show their love in very different ways.
Producers: James L. Brooks
Director: James L. Brooks
Writer: James L. Brooks
Having recently witnessed the death of her husband from a neurological disease, Anne Turner is diagnosed with a near-identical illness and determines to end her life once her condition has reached a critical point.
As her health deteriorates, Anne’s son and two daughters struggle to reach a consensus over their mother’s intentions and while they search for alternative options, silent recriminations and stubborn practicality threaten to tear the family apart. With her family at logger heads, Anne must also face the fury of her best friend, whose opposing views bring them into direct conflict.
The film follows Schmidt as he retires from his pedestrian job, followed by the death of his wife for whom he had lost affection. He goes on a road trip in order to attend the wedding of his only daughter to a man and into a family he does not particularly like, compelling him to reflect on his life throughout the film.
Producers: Michael Besman, Harry Gittes, Rachael Horovitz
Director: Alexander Payne
Writer: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
An Aviary of Small Birds is both elegy to a stillborn son and testament to the redemptive qualities of poetry as a transformative art. The book opens at the birth, which paradoxically becomes the moment of death when, after a long labor and an emergency caesarean, the baby’s heart gives out. For the mother, her body flooded with endorphins, euphoria gives way to shock, followed by an intense and visceral grief. However, just as grief itself is not linear, so too the book follows an emotional rather than a strictly chronological arc, lyric rather than narrative. At the same time, Karen McCarthy Woolf’s debut work is a formal experimentation that allows an intellectual and metaphysical line of enquiry to emerge. Ultimately, it is a closely felt connection with the natural world, particularly with water and birds, which allows the author to transcend the experience while honoring the spirit of her son.
Thom Gunn’s The Man With Night Sweats shows him writing at the height of his powers… The book ends with a set of poems about the deaths of friends from AIDS. With their unflinching directness, compassion and grace, they are among the most moving statements yet to have been provoked by the disease.
Title: The Man with Night Sweats
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Nye’s father has been certified for hospice care, but Nye would rather move into his father’s trailer and take care of him himself. In this masterful, graphic portrayal of a father and son dealing with home care, Wright’s mastery allows the reader to witness the deepest emotions on many levels, where what is said is only half the story.The graphic vocabulary, in a palette of blue, red and black, is carefully planned. Flights of visual fancy express genuine emotion rooted in reality.
I really enjoyed this graphic novel. It is funny and inventive and deals (I think very movingly and honestly) in the relationships within families and the tensions and challenges that caring for someone at the end of life brings. This is a book I have already started to lend (which I never do), and I would recommend it as a thought provoking read for students at any part of the course. You can find out more about the backstory to the book and the writer at the dedicated website.
This Radio Play is made available via the Education Recording Agency (ERA) licence, as such the following link will only work via a computer on the HYMS network. >click here<
When Megan first tells Anton that she’s afraid something’s wrong, he brushes her fears away. Later, when they’re sitting in the waiting room at the Oncology Department, he still refuses to believe that Megan is ill. Even when the diagnosis of cervical cancer is given, he struggles to accept it. He hopes
against hope for a miracle. But in this story there is no miracle, and Meic Povey’s play traces the journey of a man faced with losing the woman he loves. It’s a searingly honest account, based on his own experience, of facing up to the reality of a partner’s terminal illness
One of the aspects of this drama that I felt was particularly convincing was the tension that often surfaced between the partners. As you just hear the two voices of Anton and Megan, without anything from a ‘professional’ voice – it made me think ‘I wonder what they were saying?’. Where does Megan get her version of the staging of cervical cancer? I think you could stop the play at any number of points and ask, ‘What might a health professional say/do/not do/not say at this point?’
Lucinda Gane, Christopher Reid’s wife, died in October 2005. A Scattering is his tribute to her and consists of four poetic sequences, the first written during her illness, and the other three at intervals after her death.
Jonathan Bynoe (HYMS):I recently re-watched Truly Madly Deeply (available on DVD) by Anthony Minghella, starring Juliet Stephenson & Alan Rickman. It is a wonderful exploration of bereavement,
in this case of a young woman whose cellist husband dies suddenly in the first flush of their relationship. It portrays the effect of her loss, and the stages from denial to acceptance of her bereavement. It shows as external happenings the changes that are going on in her brain. More importantly, it is both happy and sad, occasionally very funny, in the way that bereavement sometimes is. It taught me a lot.
Title: Truly, Madly, Deeply, MGM, 1990.
Direction: Minghella, Anthony
Writing: Minghella, Anthony
Juliet Stevenson’s acting is astounding, the ‘I miss him, I miss him…’ sequence is guaranteed to stay with you. (Film written and directed by the late Anthony Minghella,famous Hull University student)
Keynes weaves an intricate tapestry as he unfolds the home life of Charles Darwin, meticulously retelling the tale of Darwin’s struggles with his thoughts on evolution, the anguish resulting from the loss of his daughter, and how her death affected his thoughts on human evolution.
Author: Keynes, Randal
Title: Annie’s Box: Charles Darwin, his daughter and human evolution
Publisher: Fourth Estate; New Ed edition